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Has Arsene Wenger lost his edge in the transfer market?

Arsene Wenger

The Arsenal manager used to be famed for his ability to turn relatively cheap players into world beaters, but recent dealings perhaps demonstrate that he no longer has the insight into European leagues he once had.

First off the bat, I should say I believe Arsene Wenger is an excellent manager and Arsenal would be mad to let him go, no matter how bleak things look now.

Now that's out of the way, I can get on with criticising Wenger like everyone else.

Whilst the Arsenal manager has lost none of his tactical nouse, or knowledge of the English league, has his extended spell in London blunted his to pick out the bargains from Europe? This was highlighted at the weekend against Swansea, who came to the Emirates with a slew of excellent players that Michael Laudrup brought in during the summer. Pablo Hernandez, Michu, Chico and Jonathan de Guzman were all fairly inexpensive, and were ready to make an impact in the Premier League straight away.

Having spent the previous few seasons managing in Europe, Laudrup and his scouting team clearly have their finger on the pulse, especially in Spain, and were able to bring in these players with confidence they could do a job for him. This is similar to when Wenger’s Arsenal would bring in a Vieira or a Ljungberg. These players were not just signed for the future, they were ready to hit their best form already and undervalued by other sides.

Conversely Wenger appears to be going the other way in recent years, spending big money on players like Giroud, Cazorla and Podolski who have stood out in their leagues already.

This is partly a response to fan calls for Arsenal to try and keep pace with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, who are lavishing huge amounts on players every summer. However it could also be a sign that Wenger no longer knows European football as well as he once did.

In recent years, when Wenger does try to pick up a relative bargain from Europe, the results are mixed. Laurent Koscielny has been a good signing for Arsenal, but Park Chu-Young, Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho have had less impressive careers at the Emirates so far.

Arsenal are playing in a rigged game in Europe, where they generally cannot compete for the very best players as the richer English and Spanish teams hold sway. Wenger used to be able to counter this by using his scouting network to sign undervalued players, but now doesn't appear to have that edge any more.

If it can be reclaimed, the answer for Arsenal is not perhaps to spend £20 million to try and replace the stars that leave them during the summer, but for Wenger to replace those players the way he got them in the first place, with a £5-10 million swoop for player that becomes a superstar at Arsenal.

Can Wenger prove he still has an eye for a bargain? Or does he need to spend big to compete?

images: © Ronnie Macdonald, © Matt and Kim Rudge

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